Copper Coins

by Nia Zalamea

“My soul longs, indeed it faints

for the courts of the Lord;

my heart and my flesh sing for joy

to the living God.”

—Psalm 84:2


“And a poor widow came, and put in two copper coins, which are worth a penny.”

—Mark 12:42


When we speak of service, certain words come to mind: time, work, labor. But depending on our perspective other words, such as faith, gratitude, offering, and camaraderie, can enter the mix.

When I left my private practice in small-town Virginia less than a year ago, these particular words rushed through my mind and heart daily. My practice in Virginia was one of many resources in a bourgeoning community of educated folks, farmers, coal miners and small businesses. It truly was a life of small-town America.

Choosing to work at the Church Health Center was a leap of faith. Many in my life asked if I had won the lottery, lost my mind, or both. However, my parents modeled service by beginning to do mission work in 1998, so I felt the move was quite natural. General surgery was the way I wanted to “give back” and be used for the good of others.

Now, when I perform surgical cases at the hospital, I find discussions broach the subject of behavior, morals, purpose and faith. Staff have given me feedback that I must be such a “good person” to be able to make the leap from a comfortable group practice to the big city to work for the poor.

I remember responding to this feedback quickly. I didn’t join the Church Health Center because I thought my faith was so strong and steadfast that I had something to offer. I felt, and still do feel, that my work daily is what strengthens my faith, and I am here because my soul needs it so desperately! When my former partners now ask me what the big difference is in working at the Church Health Center, I say it is this: clarity of conscience and mission.

The longing that Psalm 84 speaks of is something I think many of us have, though we may not always be aware of it. It can go unrecognized, even untouched, until a life experience helps us realize that God is waiting for us to make the move so we can be nourished. This sort of thing is something I see often when we bring new folks on medical missions overseas.

This reminds me of the parable of the widow who gave her two copper coins. We truly have little to offer in many situations: only one month of medicine, only one week of surgical care, only a bit of our money. But there is joy in being able to give what we do have, isn’t there? A happiness and grace come over us when we give something that in no way could ever be close to what we have received in this life.

Working for the poor because we all are children of God is time, labor, faith, gratitude, offering and camaraderie. But more importantly, it is responding in our own little copper coin way to the call of Christ, and with that we truly sing for joy, for we know that our spirits and hearts long for the living God.

Let us pray, then, that we find our copper coins, wherever they may be, and recognize our longing for the courts of the Lord.

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